June 9, 2014

David Denny

APOCALYPTIC CHARLTON HESTON

More cynical and clammy than Western Heston or 
Moses Heston or even Judah Ben-Hur Heston, 
Apocalyptic Heston is anti-epic, much less likely 
to strike the Northwestern University-trained 
acting school pose—that smug you’ll-soon-find-out-
I’m-the-hero-of-this-picture pose—remnant 
from the age of Barrymore and Fairbanks.
Apocalyptic Heston is a scavenger, a roamer, 
a Duke gone rogue, cut loose from the hero’s 
code by rampant, empirical, planet-devouring 
capitalism and spun into his own oxygen-depleted 
hyper-Darwinian filmic orbit. Apocalyptic Heston has 
little of the sonorous America-first Bible-recitation 
Heston of his later years. Even the rifle-raising 
pry-it-I-dare-you-from-my-cold-dead-fingers 
NRA Heston, for all its Republican posturing, 
wouldn’t survive in a room with Apocalyptic Heston, 
whose Dudley Do-Right chin is bruised, 
stubble-covered, and weary of humanity’s 
death-loving hubris. He may be lugging a weapon, 
but it’s clear from the haphazard way it’s slung 
over his shoulder that it doesn’t have a name. 
He only cleans it because there’s nothing else 
to do and no one to talk to—they’ve all been 
swallowed up by the great earthquake, crushed 
into protein-rich crackers, or ravaged by mutant 
cells no immune system but his could battle. 
It’s not that he’s lost his humanity, but he has 
dropped the now burdensome and obsolete load 
of decorum required by the late great western civilization. 
He can still fall to his knees in the sand, 
shedding tears of rage and sadness for what’s 
been lost, but the camera is very far away 
and the sobs are drowned out by the elegiac strains 
of Montovani’s violin-heavy score. Indeed, 
absent Cecil B. DeMille production values, 
Apocalyptic Heston has his own brand of sweaty 
1970s cinemascope appeal. But no Orange County 
nomination committee would ask him to run 
for office. No AFI tributes for him. No tuxedos 
or red carpet strolls. No late-night TV guest 
appearances with amusing behind-the-scenes 
anecdotes. Not even Michael Moore would dare 
satirize him for fear of Apocalyptic Heston’s 
nothing-left-to-lose reprisal. Alzheimer’s 
wouldn’t dare stalk him. Apocalyptic Heston’s 
long goodbye is a medium shot at dusk; 
he’s standing alone on the rubble heap of 
a Malibu mansion, turning over chunks of chimney 
debris with his steel-toed boot. Don’t expect him 
to wave as the camera cranes back and 
the credits roll. His eyes are fixed on some 
far-away vanishing point on the horizon, 
lit by the lavender atmospheric pollution 
that gives this finale its tragic luster as the painted 
cyclorama sun sinks slowly into the Pacific.
 

from Rattle #42, Winter 2013

[download audio]

__________

David Denny: “My son Zach and I were lounging with our notebooks at the Lahaina Starbucks on Maui. The rest of the family was snorkeling that morning, but we had gotten into a routine of scribbling together for an hour or so before anything else. We got to talking about a string of apocalyptic movies that Charlton Heston made during the 1970s—Planet of the Apes, Soylent Green, The Omega Man, Earthquake. How oddly dark these pictures were given the actor’s studio-era career as a larger-than-life true-blue hero. When we fell silent and opened our notebooks, he gulped his skinny mocha and worked on a sci-fi fantasy story. I sipped at my iced tea lemonade and jotted the initial draft of ‘Apocalyptic Charlton Heston,’ a back-handed ode to the star’s ability to reinvent himself for a more anti-heroic age.”